It's been a couple hours since I last saw the inside of a city, much less a warm and cozy inn. I'm lost in the middle of a forest and, even worse, it's night. Two groups of bandits, one of which has a sorcerer and cyclops, pursue my near-death party of adventurers. This dreary situation can be traced back to my lack of preparation before leaving town, and then made worse by my thirst for more experience and loot.
As dawn appears on the horizon, I evade the bandits and reach an overlook where I spy the city we left so long ago. I check my inventory and realize and I'm out of supplies, which means little hope for taking on more enemies. With the hard-fought loot and experience I gained so far, I set out on the road. However, this time I aim to make it back inside city walls before night sets once again. This is the often unpredictable and dangerous world of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen.
Originally released in 2012, Dragon's Dogma has finally made its way to the PC. I can say that the wait was worth it. While the game could easily be classified into the role-playing genre, it would be ignoring much of the unique gameplay elements that set it apart from other titles. First and foremost, Dragon's Dogma is a difficult game in the sense it requires players to prepare themselves for quests and lengthy adventures and learn the tactics of various enemies for defeating them. It's not anywhere close to, say, the difficulty of the Dark Souls series; especially in the fact that there is a easy mode for those weary of challenge. I admit, easy mode felt right at home for me. I dislike overly difficult games. But, despite my fears, I fell in love with nearly every aspect of Dragon's Dogma.
Dragon's Dogma is one of the few games recently in which I embraced the increased challenge, slowing my pace to take time for additional leveling and completing all of the side quests. That pacing becomes essential to one's survival as an array of elements come into play. These elements range from the major, such as sleeping at an inn to fully heal your party, to the more minor, like filling your lantern with oil to sustain its light in darkness. The last game I truly remember having to prepare before embarking on adventures and quests was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. That preparation truly pays off in later game sections in which the enemies become larger and greater in number. The most difficult element about the gameplay might be adventuring at night. Avoid it at all costs. Night in Dragon's Dogma is your worst enemy. The game will continually punish you while adventuring at night with more difficult groups of enemies that can become relentless in their attacks and ambushes. In one instance, I discovered a rundown fort during the middle of the night. Instead of adventuring further I actually decided to wait through the night to avoid more danger. While in other games night might just be a visual change, in Dragon's Dogma that change goes beyond into gameplay.
While preparation and pacing is great in its own right, nothing would be worth the challenge if the actual gameplay wasn't compelling and, more importantly, entertaining. To give you a sense of the gameplay, let me again tell a brief story from my playthrough, which I'm confident will give a sense of what's in store with Dragon's Dogma. Here I was, again adventuring in the wilderness, ignoring any actual quest objectives, which is a common occurrence for me in role-playing games. In the distance I spot a goblin encampment which just happens to have a giant cyclops that also happens to be a quest objective for me to slay two of them. To me, this is the perfect opportunity to make some quest progression and score some extra loot and leveling experience. As I decided to play as a Strider class, I'm well equipped in long-range bow combat, but can also fend off close-range attacks with my dual daggers. After some well-placed arrow shots to the cyclops's vulnerable, giant eye, I make my push into the battlefield and begin my assent up his massive body. In Dragon's Dogma, certain character classes have the ability to grab onto enemies until their stamina depletes. After stabbing on his back with my daggers for awhile, while also taking repeat punishment from my party of adventurers, the cyclops finally falls to his knees. As soon as my stamina regenerates, I jump onto his head and deal a fatal blow to his eye—and down he drops like a rock. Few games offer this type of visceral combat. Even fewer provide the ability to grab onto your enemies while stabbing dual daggers into their eyes. Which ultimately leads to my grade school crush over the game's combat system when partnered with the varied class system.
To talk further about gameplay and not mention the pawn system would be ignoring one of the game's best aspects. Pawns, or what are known as companions in other role-playing games, function as the core members of your adventuring party. After creating the protagonist, players eventually get the opportunity to create their lifelong companion that levels alongside them. The other two pawns that make up your party are continually changing characters that can be swapped out with others found both in the game world and in the online portal of ones created by other players. You might be thinking that companions are a common affair in other games; what's so special about pawns? Great question. Pawns in Dragon's Dogma truly feel like they're living members of your adventuring party. They comment on nearly everything that happens on screen, from spotting enemies in the distance to offering guidance on how to complete a quest. This ongoing chatter makes them feel alive and, more importantly, like they're part of an actual adventuring party. I continually compared my playthrough to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film, in that I had party members going on a lengthy adventure across the breadth of the gameworld.
While chatter is great and all, pawns can also hold their weight in tough situations. When entering one of the dungeons, my pawns were smart enough to light their lanterns to fend off the encroaching darkness, and prepare for what was ahead. Upon encountering crates and other containers, they'll automatically crack them to open to explore the contents and stash any finds for later. They'll even discover pails of oil which they'll use to refill their lanterns. When it comes to combat, they'll communicate across the battlefield and work in tandem to defeat challenging foes. My primary pawn, a mage, sat back to provide healing spells to party members and powerful fire attacks against enemies. My other two pawns, a ranger and a warrior, worked beside me to keep the enemy busy on all combat fronts. The biggest compliment I can give pawns is that they never feel useless in combat. There weren't many times I had to aid them. They could navigate the battlefield and deal with enemies on their own, requiring little to no input from me. Adventuring alone in other games now feels especially boring.
Beyond the superior port performance, which I'll discuss in a bit, my favorite element about Dragon's Dogma is the thrill of exploration around every corner. To say that the world is large would be a massive understatement. Calling it "massive" doesn't take into account the near endless supply of quests, 200 levels of experience, and, of course, the the sheer size and depth of the gameworld, Gransys. All of these combine to create a continual sense of exploration. In most other role-playing games, exploring an open world is often as simple as walking to a destination. In Dragon's Dogma, however, the act of traversing the landscape can be a challenge within itself. It also helps that the world of Gransys is crafted in a subtle medieval setting that goes light on the fantasy elements, making it more believable. The sights and locations hint at The Lord of the Rings films' visual style.
The preparation mentioned earlier also weaves itself into the sense of exploration. There are limitations to where my character is able to explore. I discovered early on that the enemies' levels don't scale to your character, and some areas are directed at higher level characters, furtherer contributing to danger around every corner. One of the more memorable moments from my playthrough had my character discovering the dense forest of Witchwood. The forest is designed so that even during the day it feels dim and closed in from the trees that branch over one another and nearly cover the sky. A thick fog consumes the forest, which makes travel even more challenging. Then there are the wolves and other creatures waiting to ambush my party. I give high marks to a gameworld that goes beyond simply looking great by providing a sense of exploration and discovery.
With all ports from console to PC, there is a lot of worry around the topics like frame rate, resolution, keyboard and mouse controls, and general performance. Fortunately, Dragon's Dogma is one of the best ports I've seen in awhile. From an unlocked frame rate to 4K resolution support, Dragon's Dogma on PC satisfies all the requested categories and goes even further to deliver extras such as a field-of-view slider and well-thought-out keyboard and mouse controls. The control scheme is what surprised me most, because what I press on instinct was mapped properly from the beginning. Above all else, the game performed perfectly with no slowdowns or crashes to desktop. Tested on both a desktop with a Geforce GTX 980 and on a laptop with Geforce GTX 980M, the game was able to be run with max graphical settings and high frame rates. I was even able to play the game at medium to high graphical settings at 4K and hover between 50 to 90 frames-per-second.. My only complaint with the port is that the textures could use an upgrade; many surfaces seem bland. Also, some of the game's shadows function oddly in relation to dark lighting conditions, and the lantern produced odd graphical effects.
If you're a fan of more challenging role-playing games, then don't miss out on Dragon's Dogma on PC. Even if you're usually cautious of more difficult games, I recommend giving the game a try and trying easy mode. The game hits the right balance between providing a challenge and, more importantly, providing sufficient rewards when overcoming that danger. From the game's enthralling world and sense of exploration to its pawn system and visceral combat, there is a lot to like. Even better, the game is launching at $30, which is a steal. Do yourself a favor and pick up Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen on PC as it has finally found its true home.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is available on Steam.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2011 and focus primarily on PC games and hardware. I'm a strong advocate of independent developers and am always seeking the next genre-breaking and unique game releases. My favorite game genres are strategy, role-playing, and simulation, or any games that feature open worlds and survival elements.View Profile